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This story has been updated to include new information on plans by California colleges and universities to use the tool.

The College Board on Tuesday announced changes to a new college admissions tool to measure information about a freshman applicant’s high school and neighborhood, doing away with plans to create a single “adversity score” from 1 to 100 for each student.

Responding largely to criticisms that one score can’t reflect the hardships a student has had to overcome, the College Board, which administers the SAT, will be giving college admissions offices data on six factors about the applicant’s neighborhood and high school: college attendance rates, household structure, median family income, housing stability, education levels and crime.

The revised index, called “Landscape,” is being tested at a small number of colleges across the United States, including some in California. The tool will measure each of the six factors twice, once for the student’s high school and once for the student’s neighborhood. The six indicators will then be averaged, giving admissions officers a “Neighborhood Average” and a “High School Average,” each on a scale of 1 to 100, with a higher number representing a higher likelihood of challenges.

Beginning in the 2020-21 school year, the College Board will also give students access to the information about their neighborhoods and high schools.

College Board CEO David Coleman said the new score will more accurately capture a student’s background. “We’re not going to try to sum it up in a single score. We’re going to try to provide general information about high schools and neighborhoods. Our real aim here is just consistent background information.”

It is unclear which of California’s public colleges and universities will use the new index to decide freshman admissions. EdSource has contacted the nine University of California undergraduate campuses to determine whether they are planning to use the index. Officials at UC Irvine and UC Berkeley said the university is participating in the pilot for the new score but is still learning how it works.

Toni Molle, a spokeswoman for the 23-campus California State University system, said CSU does not have plans to use the tool.

In addition to the six factors, the reformed tool will also include basic data about the applicant’s high school, such as the senior class size and the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, as well as the applicant’s SAT score in comparison to the scores of other students at the high school.

The changes to the index come after some critics questioned whether the adversity score would adequately measure adversity and noted that an individual student’s experiences may not be reflected in the score.

“It was very important that we get away from the distraction that there was some single number we were trying to use to summarize a student’s adversity with. And so we abandoned that. It was confusing and it was not a good idea. And we really heard that,” Coleman said.

The previous version of the index, called the “Environmental Context Dashboard,”considered 31 socio-economic factors about a student’s neighborhood and high school and created a single 1 to 100 score for each student.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, a standardized test watchdog group critical of the SAT and ACT, said the changes will make the tool “less worse” but added that it will still be “misleading” for admissions officers to consider data about a student’s neighborhood or school, even if that data is never mixed.

“It’s good that the College Board listened to the feedback and recognized that attaching a single number to each individual was misleading. However, the revised version doesn’t add anything that was not previously available to college admissions offices from high school profiles or census block data. It still fails to tell you much about the individual applicant,” he said.

“A kid who grows up in an affluent neighborhood may still have overcome very serious adversity. And similarly a kid in a poor area may have had lots of opportunities. … So you’re trying to apply data derived from averages to individuals, human beings, which can lead to erroneous decision-making. Far better for admissions officers to look at individuals,” Schaeffer added.

Among the participating colleges already using the tool is Pomona College, a private liberal arts college in Claremont, California.

Adam Sapp, the admissions director at the college, said he thinks the changes will be helpful to admissions officers.

“Combining it into a single score I actually think was probably confusing. And I think breaking it out and saying here’s the school, here’s the community, I think that’s helpful,” Sapp said. “Because some students go to school in their neighborhood, other students don’t go to school in the neighborhood, and really understanding the differences between where students live, and where students are educated, that is helpful.”

Sapp also noted that while Pomona uses the index, the index does not drive decision-making in admissions.

“We ask students to send us a lot of information. We ask schools to send us a lot of information. All of that is still going to be the most central piece of the application. So to have a tool that comes in and kind of layers on top of that, that is better than it was before, I mean, I’m all for it,” he said.

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  1. Dan Plonsey 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    What is the goal here? To reduce work for college admissions, so they can lay off half of their work force? If colleges are serious about recruiting kids who have had to deal with hardship, there are much better ways to locate and recruit such kids -- but these will cost money. Obviously, the only solution that gets to the root of the problem is to reduce the terrible economic inequality in this country. I … Read More

    What is the goal here? To reduce work for college admissions, so they can lay off half of their work force? If colleges are serious about recruiting kids who have had to deal with hardship, there are much better ways to locate and recruit such kids — but these will cost money. Obviously, the only solution that gets to the root of the problem is to reduce the terrible economic inequality in this country. I wonder if this attempt does more harm than good by implying that poverty is inevitable and something one can “overcome.”

  2. Bryan Reece 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    I encourage the College Board to continue moving in this direction. If there’s one thing Raj Chetty’s work has indicated, it is that higher ed continues to disproportionately recruit students from privileged families playing the role of helping kids from privilege families maintain their privilege. Higher ed needs to be more intentional about recruiting students from low-income backgrounds. bryanreecephd.com

  3. SD Parent 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    This new tool leaves so many factors that wouldn't be addressed that I worry about it being used as a tool to measure adversity. What about the disadvantaged student who travels hours every day on a bus to attend a "better" school for a chance at a better education or lives in the worst living conditions in the best area they can afford (but then is downgraded in their landscape "adversity" score for attending a … Read More

    This new tool leaves so many factors that wouldn’t be addressed that I worry about it being used as a tool to measure adversity. What about the disadvantaged student who travels hours every day on a bus to attend a “better” school for a chance at a better education or lives in the worst living conditions in the best area they can afford (but then is downgraded in their landscape “adversity” score for attending a “better” school or living in the “better” zip code)? What about the student from any area or high school whose parent died, is battling cancer, lost their job, is incarcerated, or works three jobs (to be able to live in a better neighborhood)? What about the student who works hours every week to help with the family’s income (to live in a better area), has a medical condition (physical or mental) that negatively impacts their lives, is bullied in school, or has extended family members battling opioid addition? The list goes on and on.

    There are better ways for colleges to learn about a student’s adversities, including those that the SAT is trying now to score. For starters, colleges could ask their own short-answer questions related to adversity in the applications (some already do), or students could address the information in their essays. So it’s ironic that the CSUs, which don’t have any short-answer or essay questions in the applications, are not planning to use this new feature, whereas universities and colleges that have more detailed applications are the ones testing it out.

    Bottom line, anytime you treat students with a one-size-fits-all numbering system – this time a theoretical “adversity” score – to make it easier for colleges to sort students into categories, it devalues the students from the unique individuals they are. Many criticize the SAT score for not being a true measure of intelligence and learning. Ditto now for the landscape (“adversity”) score.

  4. Bo Loney 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    You aren’t hurting the rich and connected or those that can pay. You are hurting the middle class trying their best to help their kids overcome their own obstacles with this. You are undercutting middle class kids that are working really, really hard to get somewhere with this. Let’s just be truthful.

  5. Bo Loney 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    If Universities are to look into adversities and obstacles overcome to measure a student than it is only fair that they look at ALL adversities. You aren't going to find every kind of adversity in demographics of a neighborhood or what high school a student is coming from. For example, in this day and age, there are people driving two hours to get to a magnet school where they can be challenged. Students who … Read More

    If Universities are to look into adversities and obstacles overcome to measure a student than it is only fair that they look at ALL adversities. You aren’t going to find every kind of adversity in demographics of a neighborhood or what high school a student is coming from. For example, in this day and age, there are people driving two hours to get to a magnet school where they can be challenged. Students who are working extremely hard with University entrance as their main goal before they are even freshmen. That means getting up at 5 in the morning and out on the freeways everyday. Twice a day. 5 times a week. Not to mention the work load that also means these kids are staying up late at night with homework and studies.

    Another example would be learning disabilities. Shouldn’t there be a score for having to work hard to overcome those and being able to do as well as your peers that haven’t had to?

    Home life. How do we judge a student’s home life by what neighborhood they live in? What has the student experienced socially and emotionally throughout their childhood? What about students that have experienced an assault? Assaults are not limited to neighborhood boundaries. There are so many adversities in this world. And every single one of us has had to experience them in one way or another.

    How do we put a value on which adversity means the most at entrance? It would be unfair not to take them all into account, if we are going to do this.

  6. Charles R Hoff 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Just another example of education trying to distract by burying the realities.

    When are we going to admit in clear terms that we have many bad high schools?

    In my district we are supposed to believe that all of our students are scholars and yet according to USNews only 11.2% are “College Ready.” It takes some unusual thought processses to consider all of the 89% to be scholars.

    Replies

    • Bo Loney 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

      Agreed. I know students that are getting up at 5 in the morning and getting on freeways to drive to a magnet high school that will meet their academic, social and emotional needs. Talk about adversity. That is two hours before school starts (0 period) and two hours after staying after school for extra curriculars. Then they have to do all their homework and study because their main goal, even before freshman … Read More

      Agreed. I know students that are getting up at 5 in the morning and getting on freeways to drive to a magnet high school that will meet their academic, social and emotional needs. Talk about adversity. That is two hours before school starts (0 period) and two hours after staying after school for extra curriculars. Then they have to do all their homework and study because their main goal, even before freshman year, is to get to University. These kids are barely sleeping.

      I know parents that are adding to debt to buy small broken-down houses to be in the magnet school’s school zone. Why should they be undercut because they are working hard and competing with like minded individuals. Where is the score for deflated grades? And this movement that the SAT is not reflective of raw horsepower and hard work is bogus. You aren’t going to hit high numbers just because of test prep. Test prep, which by the way if offered through Khan Academy for free from college board. It’s called work. Stop legislating against the students that are planning ahead and putting in the work.

  7. Becky 4 weeks ago4 weeks ago

    Excellent article. I’m a recently retired public school counselor and now a university instructor. You were spot-on on this topic.